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Running column: Keys for women's safety while on the run

Pepper spray, running with others are key

Tuesday, September 25, 2012 - 7:58 am

Last Saturday morning's sexual assault of a female runner along the Rivergreenway was shocking news to the local running community. Shocking not only because of the nature of the crime, but also because of its rarity.

We may be blessed with safe trails, parks and roads but I thought this week's column would be best served dealing with this topic. Can an attack like this be prevented? If so, how? If not, how can you lessen the odds? To find answers, I talked with a few women runners in order to gain their perspective. What follows are some common sense approaches along with a few unique ideas.

1. Strength is in the pack

Running alone really exposes a person, so join a pack. Running groups offer so much more than safety to the participants, but we'll stick to the issue. Even with one other woman, a female is much less-likely to be targeted. And, the odds get better with the more people in your group.

“Most of the time I run in groups,” said Melissa Renner, a Fort Wayne runner. “You are so much more safer and I find that I can relax. That makes for a better run.”

Renner admits, though, that her schedule doesn't always allow her to meet up with other runners. And, there is always the mystique of a distance runner.

“Sometimes you just want to be by yourself,” Renner said. “I get that. But then you have to be so much more prepared.”

And if you cannot run with someone, run with a woman's best friend. Lynn Altevogt, who works at Three Rivers Running Company, occasionally runs with her black lab.

“I feel safe when I run with our dog,” Altevogt said.

2. Run to daylight

Another “common sense” tip is to run during the daylight hours. Evil happens in the shadows, of course, but know that running in the daylight hours does not guarantee safety. Remember, Saturday morning's assault happened just before 11 a.m. along a public stretch of the greenway.

“I never, ever run in the dark by myself,” said Renner. “It's just so much easier to see everything.”

3. Armed and dangerous

No, I'm not talking about a firearm, but something called “Pepper Spray – The Runner”. It comes in both blue (for men) and pink (for women) and has a strap which allows you hat allows you to carry it and be prepared to unload on an attacker.

Altevogt sells the device at Three Rivers Running Company and says it is becoming more popular and not just with women runners.

“It's pretty easy to carry and use,” said Altevogt. “It works on dogs, too.”

The product sells for around $15 and holds about 35 “bursts”. It promises to be a skin, eye and respiratory irritant.

4. Phone home

Altevogt says she never leaves for a long run without telling someone where she is going and how long she will be gone. And in case there is a change of plans, she has her phone.

“My phone has a GPS on it, so that helps, too,” Altevogt said. “It's just a safety measure so my family or friends know where I am.”

With the ever-increasing phone-app technology, sirens, auto-911 calls and other safety measures are becoming available. Check your phone and service provider for an update on features.

5. Familiar but unpredictable

It's good to know your surroundings, but don't let others know as well. If you run the same route at the same time often enough, you become predictable.

“I try to mix things up,” said Pam Wolfe, race director of the River City Rat Race 10K. “I don't stay on the same route.”

6. Be aware at all times

Ok, it’s time for one of my pet peeves: portable music players with ear buds. I’ve written about them in the past, mostly to warn runners about traffic and dogs. When a runner wears ear buds, they are more easily lost in their own little world. It goes without saying that you are less aware of an attacker.

Wolfe says being aware of your surroundings helps a runner notice the little things.

“(If you are running alone) don’t go through underpasses,” Wolfe said, referring to portions of the Rivergreenway. “Take the time to go up and over the street. Run wide of areas that have a lot of bushes. Stay away from areas where it’s hard to be seen.”

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Brett Hess at